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Asia Comes to Oxford

by AFP
Nicholas Kamm—AFP

Nicholas Kamm—AFP

New entries in Oxford English Dictionary include many words commonly heard in East Asian nations.

Words most commonly heard on the streets of Hong Kong and Singapore like “yum cha” and “wah” have entered the linguistic mainstream, with the Oxford English Dictionary including them in its latest update.

The terms—a type of Chinese breakfast and an expression of delight, respectively—enter along with phrases like “dai pai dong”, “ang moh” and “chilli crab” (an open-air food stall, a light-skinned person, and a regional delicacy).

Other new entries are “compensated dating,” a Hong Kong phrase that refers to a relationship provided in return for cash or gifts, and “Chinese Helicopter,” a Singaporean who was educated in Mandarin and has little knowledge of English.

The March update to the Dictionary, which styles itself as the definitive record of the English language, includes some 500 new words and phrases from around the world, such as “vlog”, “bro-hug” and “Dad’s Army.”

The update brought an “alphabet of newly added terms from World English to explore,” said Dictionary senior assistant editor Jonathan Dent. He cited “killer litter”—a Singaporean phenomenon of rubbish falling from a height—and “guanxi,” the Chinese term for personal connections that help facilitate business dealings.

The dictionary records southeast Asian influences on English stretching back to 1555.

The full list:

Hong Kong

Char siu – barbecued pork

Compensated dating – relationship in return for cash

Dai pai dong – open-air food stall

Kaifong – neighborhood association

Guanxi – personal connections that aid business

Lucky money – cash given in red envelopes

Sandwich class – squeezed middle class

Milk tea – local specialty

Shroff – cashier

Sitting-out area

Siu mei – type of dim sum

Yum cha – type of breakfast

Wet market – market for fresh fish, meat and other produce


Ang moh – a light-skinned person, Westerner

Blur – ignorant, confused

Chilli crab – regional delicacy

Chinese helicopter – person who speaks little English

Hawker center – food market with individual vendors

HDB – public housing estate

Killer litter – lethal falling rubbish

Lepak – to loiter aimlessly

Shiok – cool, great

Sabo – to harm, make trouble

Sabo king – a troublemaker

Sotong – squid or cuttlefish

Teh tarik – sweet tea with milk

Wah – an expression of delight

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